Learning the ropes of Olympic sailing
By Pascal Lauener
When Switzerland suddenly became a sailing nation after Alinghi won the 2003 America’s Cup for the first time and then had to defend the Cup in Valencia, I had the chance to cover sailing. Since a young boy, I have been attracted to boats, more so to container vessels rather then sailing ships. However after covering the America’s Cup in Valencia, I became fascinated by sailing. Challenged by the elements (wind, weather and water) and on a shaking rib (boat) it’s not so easy to get a good shoot of the action. But with the help of my Spanish colleagues and some old sailing photography professionals I made my way to the Olympic sailing in Quindao followed by another America’s Cup and now to the sailing event at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Benoit Tessier, a Reuters photographer from Paris, and I arrived in Weymouth on July 23 and started our coverage of the games with press conferences and training sessions of the different sailing classes. Every morning on our way to the ribs (boats for the media) with our heavy Peli cases, mentally checking that you have packed everything for a day out at sea, the sun cream and the oil gear for the sea spray and rain, you hope you will return with some cool frames.
On board the rib the first thing I do is to get my underwaterhousing and my cameras ready for action. I put the underwaterhousing on the floor of the rib so it’s ready whenever we have the chance to come as close as possible to a sailor. I also have the two cameras one on a 500mm and the other on a 28-300mm lens back in the Pelicase. On the way out of the port you make your plans together with the captain of the rib and your colleagues on board. But as they are also your competitors you need to find a way so that everyone gets the things they need as there is no place for dispute on a moving rib.
So, for the three weeks spent covering the Olympics I am on the same rib, with the same driver and the same photographers. This might seem boring but it makes sense. After the first days we know each other by the expressions on our faces and it makes life easier and safer for all. It also ensures we have a lot of fun. We are four photographers with four big Peli cases and a driver on the rib so moving is complicated and you have to take care that you are not blocking someone’s shot.
The most important person on the rib is the driver; he makes your picture happen. He needs to be a good sailor himself, having the courage to sneak into position right before the action, stopping at the right moment to put the underwaterhousing into the sea as the ships pass by and speeding up so as not to miss a single shot.
I use the underwaterhousing to incorporate water into the picture. For me, these photos look like you are swimming in the water and the ship is just passing you by. It also varies the file alongside our close-up sailing action pictures. At the Olympics you not only need to cover the winners but all the nations competing. As the light sometimes changes quickly at sea it gives you various moods during the five to six hours spent out on the rib.
We have now started covering the competitions with more and more races to cover every day. The weather has worsened but I hope we will not get too wet during our stay in Weymouth and Portland and I can look after my sunburn.